On August 28, 1999, at 1245 central daylight time (cdt), a Piper PA-28-140, N5535U, operated by a private pilot, was substantially damaged when on takeoff from runway 32 (3,375' X 125'/turf) at the Pawnee City Airport, Pawnee City, Nebraska, the airplane struck trees and subsequently impacted the terrain. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was being conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. No flight plan was on file. The pilot and passenger on board sustained minor injuries. The local flight was originating at the time of the accident.

In his written statement, the pilot said that he rotated the airplane at 80 miles per hour and started his climb out. At approximately 100 feet above the ground, he noticed the airplane begin to descend. "The plane started to settle in as if [the] lift was gone." The pilot checked his airspeed indicator to be sure it read 80 miles per hour or better, which it was. He said he didn't notice any drop in engine power. At this same time, the pilot said he noticed the nose of the airplane begin to turn towards the west. "Nose of the plane was pushed towards [the] left - no wing drop in turn." Because of the low altitude, the pilot said that he did his best to maintain level flight and miss the trees he saw in front of him. The pilot said he remembered clipping at least two trees, but not hitting the ground. During his walk back to the airport, the pilot said he noticed that there was a "rather strong wind out of the southeast which wasn't present at the time of the takeoff roll."

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector examined the wreckage at the accident site. The airplane was located in a grassy field, approximately 1/4 mile west-northwest of the airport, and 300 feet off of the departure end of the runway. The airplane was resting upright on the forward fuselage, and was oriented on a southwesterly heading. The airplane's engine, firewall, and instrument panel were broken downward and twisted left. The right side of the engine cowling was broken out. The front right side of the airplane's cabin was broken downward. The windscreen was broken out. The glare shield was crushed forward and buckled upward. The airplane's forward landing gear was broken aft. The airplane's left wing showed several inward dents along the leading edge. The left forward wing tip was crushed inward and bent upward. The flaps on both wings were up. Several small trees approximately 1/8 mile west of the airport showed severed branches. One medium-sized pine tree had the upper portion of its 10 inch diameter trunk severed vertically. A ground scar preceded the airplane wreckage by approximately 100 feet. Several branches were scattered along the ground prior to the ground scar. The airplane's propeller rested face down in the ground, prior to the ground scar. It was broken off at the flange, and showed torsional bending and chordwise scratches. Flight control continuity was confirmed. Examination of the engine, engine controls, and other airplane systems revealed no anomalies.

The Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) for Brenner, Nebraska, 27 miles east of the accident site, at 1150 cdt, was clear skies, 7 miles visibility, calm winds, temperature 88 degrees Fahrenheit, dew point 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and an altimeter of 30.10 inches of Mercury (Hg).

The Cherokee 140 Owner's Handbook states that for a soft field takeoff, no obstacles, to "lower the flaps to 25 degrees (second notch), accelerate aircraft and pull nose gear from the ground as soon as possible, lift off at lowest possible airspeed. Accelerate just above the ground to best rate of climb speed, 85 miles per hour. Climb out while slowly retracting the flaps."

The owner's handbook also states, "the best rate of climb airspeed at gross weight is 85 miles per hour while the best angle of climb airspeed is 74 miles per hour. At lighter than gross weight these speeds are reduced."

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